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Why the Agency World Loved and Hated Mad Men

This post originally appeared on HubSpot’s Agency Post.

In 2007, I was brand new to the storied advertising agency DDB, having been appointed Chief Communications Officer. One of the first memos that hit my desk was a “heads up” that Doyle Dane Bernbach was going to be featured in a new television series. Creator Matthew Weiner had consulted with the agency prior to production and my arrival, but we did not know how the agency was to be treated in the storyline for Mad Men.

Fast-forward all these years, and I am happy to say that DDB fared the best in the quips and portrayals of Madison Avenue agencies (McCann was continuously trashed, BBDO had a short bad turn). I can honestly say that I would have watched and been loyal to the show regardless of my employer or career. It is an amazing trip through my adolescence and profession, as well as, our shared history and pop culture.

Now that the show has long been finished, I’m feeling nostalgic for all of the nostalgia the show provided. Mad Men was cleverly premised on investigating the past by monitoring the effect of change. Throughout, we witnessed our troubled public and private lives, personal struggle, and even surrender in the face of social upheaval.

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The series addressed race, gender roles, war, free love, assassinations, office politics, infidelity, addiction, and occasionally, advertising. On the last subject, it has been surprising that so little discussion has taken place on the impact mass production coupled with mass advertising had on society. This commercialism turned people into consumers and products into brands, and we have never been the same. 

Nor did the series adequately tackle the quality of advertising in the period. In the 1960s, advertising became a game of more, not better. In The Idea Writers: Copywriting in a New Media and Marketing Era, Teressa Iezzi writes:

For every Think Small (a DDB campaign for Volkswagen) in the 1960s, there was a bottomless bowl of the same insufferable dross that’s served up on any given commercial break and that covers the ground from forgettable waste of everyone’s time and money to actively annoying disincentive to ever buy the product being advertised.

It is amazing that, given the volume of work from this era, each notable agency can cite only a small number of standout campaigns. For Ogilvy & Mather, it is The Man in the Hathaway Shirt who sported a black eye patch adding mystery to his decision to wear only Hathaway shirts. The roguish adventurer drove sport cars, sailed yachts, courted women, held an elephant’s tusk, and inspected a shotgun all in the same crisp white shirt. 

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